Conservatism Could Hurt Deeds in Democratic Race

Primary Usually Draws More Liberal Base

Creigh Deeds one of three Democratic candidates for the Virginia governor's office, discusses his plan for the state's economy, his resume and recent changes in his campaign. Video by
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 17, 2009

RICHMOND -- During nearly two decades in the Virginia legislature, the work of R. Creigh Deeds carried the stamp of a rural lawmaker, whether that meant creating a board to promote the state's sheep industry, classifying potbellied pigs as companion animals or making it a crime to interfere with a person who is lawfully fishing.

Although his conservative voting record served him well with his Bath County constituents, his votes on several politically charged issues could put him out of step with voters in next month's Democratic primary, which traditionally attracts a more liberal base.

Those votes have included support for a family life program in schools that would define abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage as "moral obligations and not matters of personal opinion or personal choice," a mandate that the words "In God We Trust" be displayed prominently in every school and a bill to increase the penalty for killing a fetus.

Deeds voted to designate English as the official language of Virginia, to make illegal immigrants ineligible for state or local benefits, and against a bill to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates. He voted to void contracts between members of the same sex that would have provided rights associated with marriage, such as hospital visits, and voted against adding sexual orientation to a list of hate crime categories.

"It's an issue for him," said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat who represents Northern Virginia and is not supporting anyone in the primary. "He still has explaining to do in Northern Virginia on his record. No question about it."

Deeds, 51, a senator and lawyer from one of most rural parts of the state, said his voluminous legislative record -- with more than 50,000 votes cast during a decade in the House and nine years in the Senate -- reveals a complex mixture of his beliefs, constituents' views and lots of research.

"I try to become as educated as I can and vote on whatever I think the right thing is," he said. "People are going to disagree. That's the nature of the beast. And if enough of them disagree, then I'm not going to be elected."

There's no question, he said, that his record reflects his firm roots in Bath. In many respects, it also reflects a brand of Virginia Democrat more common before broad demographic changes turned the state into a competitive place for those based in the more liberal Washington suburbs.

Deeds sometimes waivered when voting on different versions of the same bill, but the ones listed here could be the most troublesome for Democratic voters. In many instances, the bills had the support of enough other Democrats, as well as Republicans, that they passed and were signed into law.

"I am moderate. I always have tried to look for a middle way because I think that's where most of the people are . . . in the center," Deeds said. "I try not to be too partisan in my approach to issues. I'm not elected to just represent Democrats. I'm elected to represent people."

Deeds appears to be well aware, though, that positions that could help him in a statewide general election might be detrimental in a primary bid. His campaign has emphasized other aspects of his voting record, such as his hand in creating an emergency alert system for missing children, establishing a fund to help lure businesses to the state, cracking down on methamphetamine production and writing some of the country's most progressive laws on land conservation.

His opponents, former delegate Brian Moran and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, have offered little in the way of scrutiny of his record, but Deeds has been put on the defensive at public events. At a recent forum in Richmond, for instance, he was questioned repeatedly about his willingness to allow Virginians to carry concealed weapons into bars and restaurants.

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